Manly edge back-rower Shaun Lane has excelled in his recall to the top grade after spending a season and a half in reserve grade and has revealed some stints playing prop for feeder club Blacktown has helped steel him for his new 80-minute role at Manly.
The towering 22-year-old burst onto the scene with Canterbury in 2014, including a massive try-scoring effort in a winning team in the memorable back-to-Belmore win over the Storm in just his third NRL game.
But after playing out that year with short stints off the bench before being released to the Warriors, Lane had added just two more caps; one start with the Warriors in Round 9 last year and a short spell off the bench for Manly in Round 3 this year at a time the forward pack was racked by injury and suspension.
But recent injuries to Curtis Sironen (pec, Round 26) and Lewis Brown (knee, Round 20-22) have handed the South Eastern Seagulls junior a chance to again impress in the top grade.
In Round 18 against Penrith – in a team starved of ball – Lane racked up 39 tackles (second only to Api Koroisau's 46) and his 157 metres was the most of any Manly forward. On Sunday he was instrumental against the Wests Tigers with an early try backed up by 31 tackles and 85 metres.
Speaking to media after the game, he said he had been hoping and waiting all year for a chance back in the top grade.
"You play reserve grade the whole year just hoping for that one chance to come through and try and make the most of your opportunity and I like to think I've gone pretty well in the two games I've had so far," Lane said.
"'Siro' is out for quite a while and Lewis Brown's still not back yet so I've got to be consistent while I'm still in the team and hopefully build my case that when those blokes do return that I've still got a spot in the team."
Perhaps surprisingly for a rangy, 6'6" edge back-rower who is known for running lines out wide, Lane has started five of his past seven games for Blacktown Workers in the unfamiliar position of prop, which he said has helped develop his game.
"We're a little bit short in some size in Intrust so I've had to go up the middle a little bit," Lane said.
"I've felt that's kind of helped my game a little bit because sometimes playing down there I've had to play some long minutes in the middle and playing in the middle is a completely different thing.
"There's just no time for rest, you're just making tackles, turn around, have hit-ups, kick chase, go again and it's like that for 30-minute stints. I feel like it's kind of helped me now that I've come up and played 80 minutes that I can really push through those times when I really feel like I'm buggered and still keep working."
Unlike on an edge, where you can get a bit of a breather if most of a set is played out on the opposite flank, middle forwards have to push up and back on every play, leading line-speed in defence and ready to either carry or run a decoy in attack. Lane reckons this has helped build his game in both the physical and mental aspects.
"You do get a little bit fitter doing that type of stuff and your lungs do blow out so the first couple of games I played I was absolutely blown out after about 20 minutes then I slowly got out to the 30-minute mark," he said.
"Mentally as well, you know that even though you are buggered and your legs are jelly and your lungs are burning that you can push through it and you just have to take it one play at a time because any play can really cost your team if you're not tying in and pushing up."
Lane's efforts slotting in in the absence of Sironen and Brown drew praise from his coach Trent Barrett after the win over the Tigers.
"I thought he's been outstanding the last two weeks, Laney. I'm really happy for him," Barrett said.
"He's spent a fair bit of the year at Blacktown behind Curtis, he's come in and made that spot his own and doing really well. He's a big body and mobile and I'm really happy for him."